Summers are always bad. Without school to keep me occupied my mother has no idea what to do with me, she believes I can’t just sit in my room and read, which is what I will do left to myself. When I am little we spend every summer at a bungalow colony in Connecticut, sheltered in a tiny cabin, counselors and activities for the swarms of children and mah jong and martinis for the grownups. My father comes up on weekends and for a two week vacation.
When I turn ten my mother sends me to sleep-away camp in the Berkshires. Four consecutive summers I live in a rustic cabin with dozens of other girls my age, all supervised by jolly vigorous college women counselors. Every minute of every day is organized, first we swim and then we play softball and then we play tennis and then we have lunch, then we rest, then we swim, then we make lanyards, and on and on. Evenings after dinner we sit around a campfire and sing songs, and then go to bed.
I hate everything about camp. I am afraid I will die of humiliation and skinniness and being homesick. I have no books. I have no friends. There is no place to hide.
I start out that first summer with long hair. At home my mother brushes and braids it every morning but here nobody has time. One of my jolly counselors takes me to the boy’s barber shop and instructs him to cut my hair. I am indifferent to my hair, I don’t care, but I leave the chair looking like a stranger and worry what my mother will say. She just laughs.
By the third week in camp I am ten pounds lighter. My camp uniform hangs on me and my knobby knees and elbows stick out and my horn rim glasses look too big for me. My hair straggles.
I am the last person chosen on every team because I am a terrible athlete. I can’t bring myself to care about winning and I have no coordination, I play right field because balls don’t go there much. I pick dandelions while the team plays. I am scared to dive.
The other girls ignore me. I am not worth bullying.
On week five all the parents come for parent’s weekend, bringing presents to their children. I want food desperately, I have written in my weekly mandatory letters to my parents. They bring me a whole Jewish salami, a loaf of rye bread, and a five pound bag of pistachio nuts. My fingertips are stained pink for days and I smell like garlic.